The Swiss Guard In Revolutionary France

As you know from yesterday’s post, Switzerland was well know for sending mercenaries abroad.  Popes weren’t the only people who hired them.  France‘s King Louis the 11th started a group to protect him called the Hundred Swiss (Cent Suisses) in 1480.  Swiss worked for the kings of France on up to the revolution.

When the French Revolution started, about nine hundred Swiss Guards were protecting the Tuileries Palace.   They didn’t fare well; they ran low on ammunition and were overwhelmed by the larger opposition.

  • Approximately 600 of them were killed during fighting or after the surrender
  • 60 were taken to city hall and killed in front of the crowd there
  • Around 160 died in prison of their wounds in prison or in further revolutionary violence

Their bravery is commemorated by Bertel Thorvaldsen’s Lion Monument in Lucerne.*  The lion is shown collapsing on the symbols of the French monarchy.

* Lucerne is one of the highlights of any trip to Switzerland and one of the most beautiful places in the world.

 

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The Swiss Guard

The Papal Swiss Guard is actually Swiss.  They are mostly from Zurich, Luzern and St. Gallen.  The Swiss Guard has been responsible for the Pope‘s security and the protection of the Vatican for around 500 years.  Back then, Switzerland was a poor country whose citizens worked as mercenaries all over Europe as there weren’t sufficient jobs at home.
The Papal Swiss Guard’s first and deadliest engagement was on May 6, 1527 fighting the forces of Charles V during the sack of Rome.  Their efforts enabled Pope Clement VII to escape the Vatican.

To be a Papal Swiss Guard, you must:

  • Be Swiss
  • Be Catholic
  • Be a man (they aren’t opening it up to women anytime soon)
  • Be at least 185 cm (5 ft 8.5 inches) tall
  • Be between 17 and 30
  • Have a high school diploma or professional degree
  • Have completed basic training in the Swiss army
  • Apply
  • As you can see from the first photo above, you must also be able to rock a uniform